“Here I stand. I can do no other.” Or so Dave would have us believe. There were a dozen of us invited to Dean last weekend for what was described as a gathering of “The New Wave”. New the others certainly were – I didn’t recognise a single one of them and, rather more worryingly, they appeared not to know who I was either. It was immediately obvious that DC was after something, because we received the full Samantha treatment: the smile, the polite laugh at any attempt at humour, the reassuring light pat on shoulder.
For a while we mingled uneasily as, painstakingly, I established that I was surrounded by successful head teachers, small business leaders (small as in business, not leader) and a weathergirl from, apparently, “Five”. Eventually, our blessed leader ascended to his podium:
“We are in the process of ridding ourselves of the dead wood – Hogg, Steen, the Wintertons, dear Andrew MacKay – and we must replace it with . . .”
“Lively wood?” I asked.
“Thank you, Gideon. With new faces, with new people filled with new passion and new commitment, with . . . you twelve.”
Eleven of the disciples applauded.
“This is my Clause Four moment.” (Which expenses regulation is that? I thought.) “My chance to show that the Conservative Party has changed. To demonstrate that it’s a party no longer stuck in gentlemen’s clubs but instead in the vanguard of the Post-Bureaucratic Age. I want you to join me there.”
Great was the rejoicing among teachers and business types and weathergirl, and the barbecue which followed was a lively affair. Although, having seemingly been cast as Judas, I kept a low profile. Chatting things over with Alan Duncan (once party jester, now moral compass) at White’s, we agreed that a new puritanism is sweeping the land and it is most unbecoming. Even worse, DC seems convinced that he should lead this movement. The early warning signal was the Cameron- and Coulson-sanctioned headline in the Sun: “In the name of God . . . go!” It was strange that one of life’s Cavaliers should have decided to go Roundhead, but even stranger that a man who has spoken at length about the need to strengthen parliament should adopt as a slogan Cromwell’s cry for its abolition.
This, I fear, may be the beginning of the distancing of leader from party. If it plays well in the country, it matters not what the party thinks; so long as you are ahead in the polls, there will always be loyalist MPs. And DC wants me to be one of them. The difficulty is that he is asking me to join a House which promises to be as sanctimonious as any assembled since the Rump Parliament. As I said to Alan, “Do you really want to be
a member of a club in which you live in fear of bumping into Esther Rantzen in the corridor?” He couldn’t have agreed more, and is privately kicking himself that he wasn’t more flamboyant with his expenses and therefore in a position to stand down and take up the offer to host Have I Got News For You.
Myself, I am in a quandary. On the one hand, it seems churlish to spurn the safest of seats. On the other, Gideon Donald MP sounds so tawdry in these self-hating times.